A good video producer knows to carry more than just a camera. You need to always keep a few tools at your disposal. On every shoot you need:
1. A Plan:
Because your camera can’t create great production without a plan.
Random shots aren’t easy to edit unless you use a calendar-type compilation. How are you going to string all of those random shots together? Shooting video isn’t like shooting still photos. Every still photo should be able to stand on it’s own. Video is a string of frames, and 90 frames (3 seconds) doesn’t tell a story well, so always have a plan.
2. A Stabilizing Tool:
Because your camera can’t get a stable shot by itself.
Handheld shooting is fine in many cases, but no serious shooter is going to make a stellar cinematic scene or inspire awe in their productions if the video is shaky, and small cameras and DSLRs shake. If I’m trekking into the hills, I’ll take a small tripod, or if I want to really be portable, I’ll take a small table-top device. It won’t help me make stellar pans or dolly shots, but for that one long-distant shot where I’m zoomed all the way in to climbers on El Capitan in Yosemite, the stabilizer does the trick. Remember to keep one handy, the best tripod isn’t any good if you don’t use it.
3. An Audio Recorder or Mic:
Because your camera can’t record good audio from its own mic.
Camera mics have been maligned a lot over the years and, for the most part, they’re not bad mics – they’re just in the wrong place. Mics sit next to the camera lens, not to your subject, so unless your subject is 10 inches from the camera, your sound will be muddy and weak, and other noise around it gets picked up, too. For my hike in the forest example above, a small portable recorder can’t be beat. Place it on the forest floor, walk away 10 feet, and wait for the sounds of nature to resume after all creatures have acclimated to your presence. No camera mechanism noise, no videographer shuffling or breathing noise – just the world as you intend it.
I also have made a habit to keep a small hard-wire lavalier mic in my bag as a backup in case my wireless mic or recorder battery goes bad.
4. A Bounce Card, Reflector or Light:
Because your camera can’t control the light – only capture it.
New cameras can do many things: they have GPS tracking and editing abilities, they can fix color balance, and make digital effects. Heck, some cameras can even make phone calls. (That’s a joke, you know… I’m referring to mobile phones.) But one thing a camera can’t do is control the light going into it in every situation. You might not always need to set up a 3-point lighting scene, and you might not want a formal fussy shot or to lug along a lot of gear – but a small portable light can bail you out of an over-shadowed scene, and a small bounce card can do wonders outdoors. A collapsible reflector/diffusion disc is cheap, or you can take a piece of sturdy card stock, fold it to make it compact, and keep it in your pocket.
5. Some Cleaning Tools:
Because your camera can’t see through greasy fingerprints!
Your camera might have some self-cleaning mechanism inside it’s innards, but it’s up to its human handler to keep the outside of the camera clean. There are many good lens cleaning kits, but remember the most important is not to use anything that has alcohol as an ingredient. Whereas alcohol might not hurt your lens glass, it can corrode the rubber linings and some plastic parts of the camera body. Keep a small lens cleaning cloth handy in the pocket of your gear bag, and clean it, too. Many camera stores give these away, and you can get them from an eye-glasses retailer, also. At the very least, keep a clean T-shirt on hand, if you have nothing else, but do not EVER use a paper towel (ouch!), or cotton puffs or facial tissue. These have particles on them that can work into the camera’s gear mechanism. Some baby wipes are good for wiping down the outside of your camera, but check the ingredients lists, first.
Finally – remember this: If you take nothing away from this story, learn this from me – I paid $500 getting my camera serviced because of some sort of debris that got into the body causing it to malfunction – lesson learned!
These are just a few tools to keep with you at all times if you want to be a serious shooter and be ready at a moment’s notice. All together, they don’t weigh you down too much. You’ll be happy you had these with you, and you’ll be on your way to making great video using good tools.
Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning photographer & editor and Videomaker’s Managing Editor